A Secret Retreat – Wedding Photography Workshop

I was completely intrigued when I heard about the Secret Retreat wedding photography workshops (www.the-secret-retreat.co.uk) from a fellow photographer.  The workshops take place in Italy for a week in September and are directed at women photographers who want to grow their business and develop their photography skills.  I found the reviews about it being a life changing experience,  giving an unrivalled boost to your business as well as offering the opportunity to make lifelong friends along the way very appealing.  I stared at the workshop dates on the calendar when they were announced and watched as the limited spaces that were available filled up like a rock concert.  Although I knew it would certainly be worth the time and money, this year I just couldn’t justify it so I let the opportunity pass.

Then I heard that the Secret Retreat intended to run a one day workshop right here on home soil called the Secret Retreat – Fireside (www.the-secret-retreat.co.uk/fireside)…  When the bookings went live, I managed to secure the last available place (… they actually ended up setting up a second days training due to the popularity.)

The workshop was held at Ponden Hall (www.ponden-hall.co.uk) in West Yorkshire at the end of November.  The Hall appears to be the inspiration for Cathy’s home in Wuthering Heights and Emily Bronte may have written a large part of the novel at the Hall when she visited with her siblings – drawn by a friendship with the people who lived there and a very large library.  With its remote setting in the middle of the Yorkshire moors, it felt untamed and very much in keeping with the imagery of the novel and the tortured romantic Healthcliff.

There were 14 of us eager students who listened to and participated in some great discussions about the business of wedding photography.  Lucy (lucywoodrow.co.uk) prompted us to think about our personal values and how they were reflected in our business.  Claire (www.clairepenn.com) talked about pricing and Andrea (www.andreaellisonphotography.com) talked about the “perfect” clients.

In the afternoon, we headed outside with our models – Casey and Mark.  They are getting married next year and Claire and Andrea are going to be their photographers.  They were great at enabling us to direct them (after some very useful tips on ways to do this from Andrea which I will definitely be adding to my “tool kit”).  Casey was so cool – up for being out in the rain and getting wet in a little dress while us photographer types stood around all dry and toasty in our wellies and winter coats!   When we got back into the dining room, there were four great cakes (great in both size and nature) waiting on the table for us.  My only disappointment at cake time was the fact that I couldn’t try a piece of all four.

Melisssa (www.thedesignspace.co) gave the final presentation of the day focusing on websites.  She also gave me a bit of a personal critique on my website which was invaluable in providing me with some great suggestions to take the space forward.

We finished by heading down the road to a pub called the Old Silent Inn (oldsilentinnhaworth.co.uk) where we ate yummy food.  As well as some down time with the people we had just spent the day with, we also met some of the others who were joining the following day’s course – a lovely bunch of people.

I left the day feeling inspired by the experience and with my brain full of ideas of things I want to do with Flying Canadian Photography.  Thanks to the Secret Retreat – Fireside and my fellow trainees for making this such a fun experience.

Oh yeah – and I got some cool pictures too!

Casey’s hair and make-up by Jenn Edwards & Co. Hairworks. Flowers by Stems Design.


Outdoor Dog Photography Workshop with Elke Vogelsang

One of my favourite dog photographers is Elke Vogelsang elkevogelsang.com/en.  She takes some amazing pictures of dogs – particularly her 3 dogs Noodles, Scout and Ioli so you can imagine my delight when I found out she was holding a dog photography workshop less than an hour from home.  I signed up immediately.  I’ve met a couple of other photographers this year that I admire greatly and they were genuinely lovely people wanting to encourage us lesser mortals in the craft as much as possible.  Elke was no different.
The course was organised by Fujiholics fujiholics.com/about and the venue was the lovely home of Martin and Sue located in the heart of the Cheshire countryside.  We started the day with Elke telling us her personal story about her photographic journey.  Much to my delight, we heard lots over the course of the day about her 3 dogs – 2 who were rescued from Spain and one who’s mother was rescued from Spain when she was pregnant.  We learned about the dogs’ personalities, their similarities and differences and what motivates them each to be such stunning subjects.  Elke talked about techniques for photographing furry subjects both in terms of technical settings and working with the dogs personalities.  She talked about perspective, expressions and other photographers that inspire her.  She also talked about the business side of pet photography and about social media success.
There was a lovely homemade lunch to split the day which was made complete by a lovely piece of homemade toffee cake.  And then the camera’s were out and the dogs were in action.  There was Luca the ball loving spaniel, the sophisticated Mr. Jinks, Molly with her wonderful ears, Cassie with her boundless energy and Rufus, Will, Maisy and Ruby the beautiful golden retrievers.  The weather was a bit touch and go but we managed a good few hours outside without any significant downpours.
Although I learned lots and lots of things, I think my 5 key learning points from the day were these:
1. Start a picture series – essentially a group of pictures of a certain theme.  The dog catching treat series went viral.
2. Get a tube of liver paste.  The dogs go crazy for it and it really helps with directing the dog and getting eye contact.
3. Go beyond just getting eye contact and look at the detail in the expressions being captured.
4. Get the shutter speed up, up, up for action shots.  Shoot continuously on continuous focus and use a fast memory card too.
5. Think about the colour of the dog’s fur and whether to tone or contrast with it in the choice of background, accessories etc.
I admire the way Elke works hard to improve her photography attributing her success not to talent but to hard work.  I love her genuine love and understanding of dogs and the real desire she showed for all of us to take better pictures.  It was great to spend a day learning from such a great photographer but it was also great to spend the day with like minded people who love not only photography but are mad about dogs too.

Thanks Elke. Here are a couple of my favourite shots from the day.  I hope you like them.

Book Review: Reading Fifteen Dogs with one beside me…

I have just finished reading a book which I got for my birthday (thank-you Lauren!) and I thought I’d tell you about it. It was called Fifteen Dogs by the Canadian author Andre Alexis.

It’s a story of Fifteen Dogs (so an aptly named book then!) who are given the power of human intelligence by the gods Apollo and Hermes. It falls into the fantasy genre and I liked the idea of it when I read the synopsis on the back of the book. What came on the following pages I found to be quite a surprise…

As I already think that my particular furry baby really is human with associated sensitivities and intelligence, the concept of a dog with human intelligence was very appealing to me. I had conjured up in a my head a lovely little whimsical story of 15 dogs developing deeper relationships, loving each other and enjoying their new found intelligence. But it turns out that dogs with human intelligence aren’t always lovely, cuddly and kind.

The dogs were divided pretty quickly in the book between those who embraced the new power and those who resisted it. This divide was reflected in a raw violence and lack of sympathy which was unexpected for me. I struggled at times to get through some of the scenes – and I admit I actually skipped some of the more descriptive, violent sections.

Now that I’ve admitted what a wimp I am, I can’t fault the uniqueness of the plot and how clever the writing is. The main protagonist, Manjoun, was a well-developed character and I fell in love with him. This black poodle ends up being taken in by a couple and becomes part of their lives developing heightened relationships with them. He is so incredibly loyal and kind although his canine instincts never leave him so he never “becomes human”. I particularly like the scene where he watches a movie with his human companion but finds it all a bit flat because he can’t smell anything from the scenes.

I loved the Toronto setting and the description of the streets, High Park and the Beach. I love the sense of familiarity reading about Toronto gives to me. The final pages moved me to tears which must be the sign of a successful author to evoke such emotion in their writing. (I hate it when that happens when I’m travelling on the train!)

So do I recommend the book? Yes – it’s an interesting, unique story but be prepared that it may not be quite as you expect.

Book review – The Unforgettable Photograph

The Unforgettable Photograph

228 Ideas, Tips and Secrets for Taking the Best Pictures of Your Life

by George Lange

I don’t usually do book reviews but I read this book on a rather wet camping weekend a few weeks back… I enjoyed it very much and I really wanted to be able to share what I thought about it. Although the book certainly has appeal to those of us with a keen interest in photography, I think it would also be an interesting read for someone just wanting to get some nice pictures of their family, pet, holiday etc etc. And the principles work for any type of camera – from a mobile phone to a full frame DSLR.

The author, George Lange, worked for Annie Leibovitz and has worked for some major magazines and newspapers in the US. I love the way he really lets you into his life making you feel like you’re pals by the time you get to the end of the book.

The book intrigued me from the caption on the first picture, “when I have a camera in my hand, good things happen…” right through to the 228th idea. One of my favourite chapters of the book is called, “Shoot the Moment, not the Subject.” The author talks about taking pictures with your heart rather than your eyes and likens taking a picture to kissing – when your eyes are closed and its all about the feeling. In this chapter comes idea 14 – “the sweetest moment”. The picture presented is one of the author’s father-in-law and although the picture is not technically perfect, the expression is. This less than perfect picture is now helping them to grieve. The point is how important the moment is as opposed to the technical stuff and I found the story really moving.

Another one of my favourite bits comes at tip 200 – “find collaborators everywhere”. This describes a project undertaken to capture pregnancy cumulating in a flip book video of the pictures taken. You can watch the video here if you’re intrigued…


I also love the way the book is laid out. Not only is it good to read through but it is also a book I’ll be referencing in the future. Towards the end of the book, there are some suggestions for displaying photographs – I particularly like the idea of making a rummage box of prints for people to rifle through.That would be very tactile and I’m always saying I need to print more pictures.

So for me The Unforgettable Photograph is an easy to read, easy to reference, inspiring book that made me want to get out and take lots of pictures of the everyday. These are moments I want to remember. 2 thumbs up, 5 stars and all that.

Wedding Photography Workshop

Last weekend I spent a day on a wedding photography workshop in Manchester.  I went across with fellow “want-to-be” wedding photographer, Denis, to the Manchester School of Photography to be tutored by our excellent trainer Paul Wolfgang Webster (http://www.manchesterschoolofphotography.com).

The day was structured like a real wedding day so we first took pictures of the “bride” (aka Grace) getting ready.  While we were doing this, we talked about lighting, composition and the key shots you need to get throughout the day.  There were five of us on the course and the other guys were really friendly – we were all at different points in our photography journeys so it was interesting to hear what everyone was doing.

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Once the bride was ready, we moved on to meet the “groom” (aka Luke) waiting at the church.  There were shots of him looking at his watch, having his tie adjusted and just generally looking impatient.  We talked about shots with the best man and where to position yourself to get the optimum pictures.


Once the bride came along, we worked to try and capture candid moments in a reportage style.  Paul talked about telling the story of the day and keeping this thought in your head during the wedding.  I think that was good advice which I shall follow when it comes time for us to stop practicing and get in the hot seat…

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After some time around the church, we moved onto a pub and tried some group shots and talked about the type of pictures you might take at a reception.  We also had some lunch there which by the time we got around to if, you’ll be surprised to hear, I was so ready for!


I left at the end of the day feeling slightly overwhelmed with all there is to know but feeling like I had a better understanding of what would be required.  I was also pleased with a few of the shots that I’d got.  I don’t think the learning stops here though – 11 months before Diane and Stuart’s wedding and our first wedding booking so I’ll use that time to take every opportunity to practice and learn.

Good thing I enjoy it!